Paul Dessau on the Problems of Sound Film

"Sound Here and There"

Paul Dessau on the Problems of Sound Film

Paul Dessau, Der Film, No. 15, 8/1/1929

Nothing can prevent me from considering the problem of sound film critically, with the necessary caution. First of all, I must confess that the enthusiasm of the German public for the so-called sound films from America is rather a mystery to me. In view of the cultural traditions of German art, I understand this enthusiasm as the effect of the appeal of novelty; otherwise, I could not explain why so many people, of the most varied education levels, allowed themselves to be convinced by this American kitsch.
Further: a film that only adds sound here and there is far from a sound film. If, aside from its economic interests, real sound film is also to have artistic success, then this is possible, in my opinion, on two conditions alone: First, the right man must be found; one who could become the leader, as it were, of a sound film school, in the best sense, and who could help give the new art content and form. Then, it would be necessary curb the distribution of American sound film somewhat, so that our native production can really have a chance; so that truly artistic directors, singers, actors, and above all musicians might collaborate on the difficult work. Sound film"s salvation shall come, if it comes at all, from Germany. And this realization does not signal chauvinism, but rather the knowledge of the fact that we, with our strong artistic powers, may not, with open eyes, fall under the spell of a cheap, tinsel art such as that produced in the U.S.A.

Indeed, as long as the hard-won achievements of silent film in the twentieth century are carried to their grave at the expense of inferior, canned music-making, I am not able to admire sound film as anything other than an astounding technical invention.

I also consider it important to emphasize that, in my opinion, not even the most perfect invention in the world shall be able to do away with live music. In this respect, sound film may have a special position, but it does not remain in any way crucial to the problem of the mechanization of music. The artistically producing (or reproducing) human being cannot be replaced by a machine. It will be necessary to realize this, the greatest successes of sound film notwithstanding.

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